Dark times are creating chaos in our lives — the pandemic, societal ills, political differences, social injustices. But in the pervasive darkness, amid the long night, Bishop David J. Bonnar of of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, reminds us that there is a true light who can free us from the darkness.
In a new pastoral letter, “Testify to the Light,” Bishop Bonnar, who is the editor of The Priest magazine, which is published by OSV, proposes five priorities to help the faithful of his diocese find the light of Christ in these dark times.
Prayer is the first priority. “Everything that we are and aspire to be as a Church has to begin in the context of prayer, both private and public,” Bishop Bonnar wrote. “Prayer gives meaning to our lives and all that we are.” It remains important today to the mission of the Church.
Bishop Bonnar encouraged the importance of silence, because “a key piece to growing in our relationship with Jesus in prayer is listening. In order to listen attentively, distractions need to be removed. In most cases, we need to slow down. And there needs to be silence.”
Part of prayer involves listening to one another and sharing our faith. “If we are to grow the Church and bring more sheep back to the flock, we cannot afford to be silent about our faith,” Bishop Bonnar wrote.
The parish, he said, is the place where we can live and grow in the Faith. Bishop Bonnar proposes forming small groups “for people to share their faith and support one another as they become disciples.”
Expanding on the priority of prayer, Bishop Bonnar included embracing our missionary role, providing “special attention to those who have become lukewarm or have left the faith.”
Healing is the second priority. “Our world and Church are hurting,” Bishop Bonnar wrote. “There are many wounded among us. The pain can be overwhelming; the scars are real.” He suggests three elements to bring about healing: prayer, reconciliation and therapy.
He writes: “Seldom does healing happen instantly. It takes time and much prayer. If you are struggling with a personal hurt from someone, I want to offer advice given to me many years ago by an older priest: The best way to deal with your hurt is to pray for the person who hurt you.”
Regarding reconciliation, Bishop Bonnar wrote: “If we have caused hurt to anyone in any way, it is incumbent that we make a good confession and do everything we can to make amends with the person we hurt. The worst thing we can do with our hurt is to allow it to fester, or worse yet, to deny it.”
When the wound is deep and needs to be processed, “there is no harm in seeking help from a counselor,” the bishop wrote. “The work of healing ultimately means letting go”
Communication is the third priority. “Sadly, we are living in a time in which, for some, the Church has become irrelevant,” he said. “We cannot stop inserting our voice into the world.”
With social media becoming the front door to the Church, he said, “it is important that we meet the people where they are” and devote resources to social media, Bishop Bonnar wrote.
The fourth priority is service. While preparing for his episcopal ordination, Bishop Bonnar read from the rite of ordination: “Bishop is a title of service, not of honor.”
Bishop Bonnar wrote that “we cannot be a Church that exists solely for ourselves. We need to be a servant Church that reaches out to the poor, homeless, imprisoned, sick, lonely and forgotten, keeping in mind that whatever we do to the least of our brothers or sisters we do to Jesus.”
A part of service includes being a unified voice against injustice. “We cannot allow the sin of racism to continue to exist,” Bishop Bonnar said. “We need to challenge one another to see Christ in every human being and to behold the dignity of every human person from the womb to the tomb and to examine and reform social systems that perpetuate racial injustice.”
5. Joyful witness
Being a joyful witness to Christ is the fifth priority. “In this time of darkness, we need to testify to the light of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Bonnar said. “We cannot allow the darkness to overwhelm us, for we are people of hope who believe in Jesus Christ, the light of the world. We need to make more of a concerted effort to point to his light.”
He encouraged the faithful to keep the light of faith burning brightly in their hearts and homes, and said: “We need to take seriously our call to discipleship and grow in that call by being bold in our expression of faith. We cannot be Catholics in name only. We cannot live in silence. We need to live our faith and be proud of it.”
While it is important to witness with joy, as expressed in the Scriptures, “to be joyful does not always mean a life without suffering,” he acknowledged. “We stand here today on the faith of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us. No doubt they carried their crosses not hesitating to make Jesus known in a joyful way. May God give us the courage to live our faith, not just privately but publicly, in the world gripped by fear and resistance.”
The bishop reminded all that through the witness of St. Joseph, the intercession of the Blessed Mother and the grace of the Holy Spirit, that “in this unprecedented time of darkness may we walk forward in faith together as a ‘Spirit-filled people’ always seeking to joyfully witness to the light. May we pray amid our differences and challenges ‘that all may be one.'”
To view or download Bishop Bonnar’s full pastoral letter, “Testify to the Light,” visit here.